Risen Indeed

I listen to this old sermon fragment from S. M. Lockridge every Easter.  It never fails to give goosebumps or make my arm hairs stand up.  Every time I’m tempted to believe that the preached Word has no power, I need a dose of this:

…And the grave couldn’t hold Him!


Dead is Dead – or – in which I consider Jesus laying in His tomb

The dead Christ with the Virgin, John and Mary Magdalene - unknown artist, 18th C

The dead Christ with the Virgin, John and Mary Magdalene – unknown artist, 18th C

Being Good Friday, we were talking about the Gospel Story around the dinner table.  My three year old daughter (a theological mind if I ever met one) is telling all about Jesus.  She knows about the Cross, and about the stone being rolled away, and about Him living again but has a serious question.

“He wasn’t really dead, was He?”  She asks.

“Oh, but He was really dead.  Dead is Dead.  He was dead.”  I reply.

As I said the words I began to think about Jesus being dead.  I mean, dead-dead.  I’ve thought long on Him dying, and long on Him risen, but never really before on Him in the grave.  Between Good Friday and Easter there He was, dead in the tomb.  The day in between is important; during that day He experienced death in a real way.  His day in the tomb was a long pause between atonement and resurrection, between two great works.  Not just through dying and rising but also through His being dead, He has won us victory:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things…

He dies just like I will.

that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, the devil…

Through that death He beats the architect of death – the devil.

and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.  Hebrews 2:14-15

I need never be a slave to the fear of death.  I am free.

The day in the tomb was not a write-off.  Through those cold, still hours He was working a great triumph that we can partake of.  Praise be to God.

Why ‘Good Friday’? – or – in which I struggle to explain to my three year old why Jesus died

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 11.17.01 AMGood Friday?  What’s So Good About It?  My daughter often asks me about God and Christ right before bed.  I have high hopes our conversations will bear life long fruit for her even I suspect they are just bed-time stalling techniques.  Last night, as we lay in bed, she asked “why did Jesus die?”  A simple question.  One that maybe a lot of people could ask.  Why is it Christians call today Good Friday, when it commemorates the torture, humiliation, and death of the One we love.  Being the father of a questioning three year old keeps me me on my theological toes.  I looked at her and tried to narrow it down.  That’s the hardest part, you see, narrowing it all down.  There are so many facets to the death of Jesus and why it is Good.  I could have told her…

He was hated by those desiring another Lord.

He gave up His life for His friends.

His Father was pleased to afflict Him.

He died for sinners out of love

He bore the wrath of God for us.

He became cursed in our place.

He sacrificed Himself once for all

He died to set us free from our sins.

He died as a ransom for many.

He died to defeat the dark powers of this world.

He died but that’s not the end of the story…

It is hard to narrow down what Christ’s suffering and death did all those years ago.  But to pause and look at everything He died to do (my list isn’t exhaustive by any stretch) is to be amazed.  It is a good Friday after all.

What did I tell my three old?  Faced with an abundance of reasons why Jesus died, I told her the one that seemed closest at the time (and the one I thought her mind could grasp).  I told that Jesus died to bring her close to God.

The Crucifixion - Matthias Grunewald. 1515.

The Crucifixion – Matthias Grunewald. 1515.

Serving on the Eve of Death

Screen shot 2013-03-28 at 10.39.02 AMJesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper.  He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him.  John 13:3-5.

Jesus gets down on one knee.  The day before His death, Jesus ate with His friends and served them in a way fit only for a slave.  He even served the one that was to betray Him.  These are the types of things not learned by learning but by doing.  When resistance to Him was almost at its apex, Jesus got as low as He could and became a servant.

Why we need to get down on one knee.  It doesn’t feel easy to be a Christian these days.  In my country, holding to traditional Christian beliefs is not a ticket to admiration and good PR.  It can sometimes feel like we are on the verge of more difficult times to live out discipleship in the public sphere.  In times like these when retreating from this world or compartmentalizing our faith in to our private worlds is most tempting.  But it is times like these when it is most important to serve this world and seek the common good of all.  On the eve of hardship, service.  We must never become bitter at our culture (“they’re going to hell in a handbasket!”) or be offended at unbelief (remember faith is a gift).  When Christian faith seems most controversial and counter-cultural is when Christians are to love this world the most and be the best citizens/neighbours we can be.  Read Peter and Paul in context and tell me this isn’t part of their message.

And never stay silent.  While we serve our broken world we will be tempted to close our mouths about Christ and His Good News.  I sometimes fear that the years ahead will become more difficult to be a Gospel-trusting Christian.  But when things seem darkest for our comfort may be when the future is brightest for the Gospel.  As long as God’s people are praying and speaking, the Good News will be working.

On the eve of His suffering and death, was when the Lord was perhaps at His most humble.  Let’s pray that He will empower us for the same sacrifice:
Lord, let us not count ourselves among the rich and noble of this world.  Even as are strangers and pilgrims in this world, turn our hearts toward others and the good of this broken world.  Let us never become bitter towards the times in which we live for You have appointed us to live in them.  We look to the hope of the future we have in Your Resurrection.  We believe there are goods times ahead for the Gospel and fruitful labour in it for us.  Give us Your Spirit and make us agents of truth and goodness.  AMEN.

God + Work Wednesday – Creating Beauty

With ‘God + Work Wednesdays’ I have been exploring different ways we can serve God through our vocational work.  Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor, is the main inspiration behind this series.  It is a fantastic volume on how God relates to our work and how our work relates to God.  Of the many motivating ways to serve God through work, So far I’ve wrote on furthering social justice, evangelizing co-workers, and working with skillful excellence.  These are great ways to serve God but there are more…  And one way to serve God is so profoundly simple, that is, by Creating Beauty.

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A goldsmith taking care of business.

Why is Beauty important?  Beauty is important because it is an attribute of God.  He is beautiful, and because He is ultimate all beauty in some way derives from His nature.  It is important because God created the world and declared it good.  Presumably beauty was entailed in that declaration, along with truth and moral good.  Beauty can be distorted but it is still an intrinsic good.  That means that creating beauty is a good thing to do, in and of itself.  It is dealing with something that God cares about.  It also blesses this world and the lives of many in it.  Everyone knows how a piece of music can lift the soul.  Or flowers can affect a neighbourhood.  Beauty is important because it is important to God.  When we engage in the creation of beauty we are acting upon this world in a way God has done.

Couldn’t creating beauty become frivolous or even idolatrous?  Of course, creating beauty could become frivolous when it is divorced from its purpose in God.  Of course, it could become idolatrous even, but so could the pursuit of social justice.  In fact, anything could become idolatrous but that danger does not make something bad.  In fact, only good things are in danger of being idolized.  Human beings make idols out of the sun, bulls, sex, money (all good things).  The important thing is that creation of beauty remain an act of worship to God and not an end in itself.  The beauty we can add to this world is like a signpost towards God – the ultimate source.

How could a Christian create beauty?  Creating beauty is not something that only Christians can do.  Of course anybody can approach their work with this motivation.  We, however, can do it with the knowledge of our beautiful Creator God.  And then there is no limit to God honouring creativity.  We can even become empowered by God like Bezalel was to craft the elements of the tabernacle.  You should really read Exodus 31.  It says he was ‘filled with the Spirit’ to accomplish his creative work – amazing!  A dancer can choreograph a beautiful number or a musician writes a beautiful song (it doesn’t have to have an overtly religious theme).  But not just the creative vocations make a way to serve God in this way.  Anyone building or making anything with intent to beautify this world serves this end.  Dentists, carpenters, architects, builders, florists, designers, singers, teachers, gardeners, shall I go on?

Repenting in Narnia

I’ve been re-reading C S Lewis’ Narnia series again for the first time since I was a child.  I’m always trying to read more fiction; even though I read a lot I feel the need for fanciful books.  And Lewis himself called fairy stories the ‘right kind of books’.  It’s no secret that the Narnian books have Christian themes but as I plow through them, I’m struck with how in each volume there is a central image.  The Magician’s Nephew has Creation.  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has Atonement.  The Horse and His Boy has a beautiful theme of Adoption.  Prince Caspian I’m still pondering but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (my favourite so far) has this great image of Repentance:

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Eustace has been turned into a dragon by his greed and laziness but when he meets Aslan he peels off his scales.  But underneath is just a new scaly hide.  Again, he tries to shed his dragon-ness but can’t get free.  Then the lion said – but I don’t know if it spoke – ‘you will have to let me undress you.’  I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty desperate now.  So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.  The first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel away.

Self effort fails but when Eustace surrenders to Aslan’s surgical claws he gets free.  It hurts but it heals.

The best part is when Edmund is told the story.  Edmund, very un-older-brother-like, counts himself the greater sinner.  You were only an ass, I was a traitor.

A Thought on Leading – or – in which I long for the wide open sea

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 8.44.29 PMHow do you get people to go somewhere with you? 

How do you guide them in a common goal?

As a pastor I struggle the most with these types of questions.  Some wisdom that captures the imagination of this old seadog:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery (author of The Little Prince)*

It’s not about getting people to do stuff, which is a relief because I’ve never liked being a task manager.  I’m actually quite bad at it.  Instead, it is about inspiring a common love which becomes the telos for a common journey.  (and I’m a sucker for nautical imagery)

* I discovered this little gem while reading James K A Smith’s magisterial Cultural Liturgies Volume 2:  Imaging the Kingdom. (page 7)